4/50: EXPRESS GRATITUDE
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”
Gratitude: noun: the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.
This is not meant to be a preachy lecture, so if at any point it sounds like it’s becoming one, I apologise. However, the quotation above just seemed to be almost perfect for the current circumstances. We may not have exactly what we want right now and we may not be exactly where we would like to be, but a lot of us have much for which to be thankful.
I’m caveating though, because I’m acutely aware that there are a lot of people having a really tough time right now, and for most of us, while things are not what we might regard as normal, if we’re currently going to hell in a hand basket, at least it appears to have cushions.
By which I really mean, let us try to be grateful for all our blessings.
Such as? Well, clean air, fresh water, a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, the good fortune to live in a stable democracy. And our health. Above all else, at this of all times, let’s not forget our health. And though we might all have just lost some liberty – to move around at will, to congregate with our friends, – we haven’t lost our freedom to express ourselves, and in fact we appear to live in an age where, if you had to put an entire civilian population into lockdown without declaring martial law, at least you had a modern media network to inform them why it was necessary, and the entire worldwide web to entertain them for the duration.
So all in all, a lot for which to be grateful. (I nearly wrote “a lot to be grateful for” but then I remembered that a preposition is a word you must never end a sentence with!)
The self-help author Louise Hay said that her first thought on waking each morning was for the breath she was taking in that moment. I imagine that most of us have a hard time practising gratitude for something as fundamental as our breath. After all, it happens almost unobserved, whether we pay attention or not, but those we know with asthma or breathing difficulties might say otherwise. I think the point is that if you observe a practice of Gratitude, it makes you appreciate every part of your life that is going well. During Storm Dennis, as well as being surrounded by floodwater, we had a power cut which as well as cutting off our electricity, also left us without water for a few hours. Was I grateful when it all came back on? You bet!
Following on from “Find Routine” (3/50), and without making this all about me, as I came through that experience of heartbreak, I found that developing and abiding by a regime of Gratitude was enormously helpful. There is a big Oak tree in the Big Meadow here, and each morning after I had walked the dogs around the fields I would stand by the tree and take in the panoramic views of the countryside. I would stand there with my dogs snuffling around nearby, waiting patiently for me to take them back indoors and give them their breakfast, while my hands rested on the gnarled thousand-year-old bark of the tree, and I would actively give thanks for all the blessings of my life: my children, my dogs, my home, my health, my amazing friends, my career, the view before me, and on and on.
And as I continued to practise Gratitude I found that I actually started to feel it inside. Despite the emotional pain and turmoil I was still processing, another part of me was starting to glow and shine with love for all my blessings.
In the children’s book, “Pollyanna” by Eleanor H Porter, the eponymous heroine is renowned for always looking on the bright side, and for always being grateful. Even when she mistakenly receives a pair of crutches instead of a much longed-for gift, Pollyanna remembers to be grateful that she doesn’t actually need the crutches. Pollyanna makes a game in which every challenge life puts before her becomes an opportunity to practise Gratitude. It’s not a very modern way of going
on, I believe, for I have heard people use the term “Pollyanna” in a pejorative way (as in “Don’t be such a Pollyanna”). Quite right, let’s all admonish one another for forgetting to be cynical and downbeat! What could be more helpful when dealing with a crisis?
And yet, in a way, I get it. We live in a miraculous age. We walk around with small hand-held devices in our pockets which allow us to communicate instantaneously with anyone we want, wherever they are on the planet. These devices can access all the information in the world, also pretty much instantaneously, as well as an infinite number of videos of cats doing amusing things and some other stuff that is Not Safe For Work. We can order food, books, clothes, entertainment, holidays, houses, cars, anything that we can possibly want in fact, just by tapping a few key strokes on a screen. We can pay our bills without getting out of bed. We can order in anything we want. We have to make almost no effort. Our gratification continues unabated at all times. The carnival never ends. And after a while all the fairground rides blend into one and we don’t remember anything that was merely good, only what was exceptional.
Every time I travel by train to London I am slightly amazed that the train goes through a tunnel under the Severn Estuary and comes out the other side. Same thing with the Channel Tunnel. Someone built that. An engineer worked out how to do that and then a lot of people with spades and shovels just dug until it was done. I don’t know if my amazement is indicative of a lack of imagination or the opposite, but I am stunned by it, and also grateful for their vision and determination.
And maybe this Universal Pause Button is a great opportunity for us to see more miracles like that in every day life, to celebrate the innate beauty of small things. Maybe not having all our desires met at the moment we express them is a chance for us to re-learn Gratitude.
Of course, we have to be gentle with this stuff. If someone you love is telling you that they are having a tough day, it’s generally unhelpful to tell them that they should be grateful. (My sister used to do that a lot when we were kids!) My observation would be that that approach tends not to win votes. Perhaps Gratitude is one of those lessons that is better learned when it is demonstrated rather than decreed or instructed.
So maybe the way to go with this is to start by being grateful for those who are supporting you in this time of crisis, for all you have, rather than what you do not. Maybe the answer is “Thank you”.
Be well. Stay well.